01 May 2012

The Hermit

To categorize Laura Solomon's The Hermit (Ugly Duckling Presse, 2011) as a book of dreams would not be incorrect, but more properly, it is a book of joyous confusions. For instance, one such confusion Solomon explores in the collection is that of gender. In the poem “Dream Ear, Part I,” she writes of “the man and the woman and the space between” (5); and in “Dream Ear, Part II,” we're told that “what is between / a lot of I don't know” (7). What is the difference between man and woman, and how can we know anything of that difference?

Of course, for the speaker of the “Dream Ear” poems to propose an unknown difference between genders is already to propose too much; for in “Dream Ear, Part III,” the speaker informs us that she's “not sure / do you even know for sure if this not sure is taking place” (9)? Confusion layered upon confusion in order to produce a hall of mirrors that reflects a distorted vision of the subject so that “you will lose you too” (10) in the proliferation of reflections.

Gender confusion manifests itself memorably and humorously midway through “Dream Ear, Part III” in the form of a waking dream narrative:
I mean I became a man in my dream on the train to Avignon
I did man things ate man snacks wrote man poems I had a penis
when I fell asleep on the train I dreamed man dreams
when I had an orgasm everything collected inside a bucket behind my balls
when I thought a thought it was clear as semen is white thought I shot

my clear white semen everywhere

but woke to find it was only a shadow on the window
and I was embarrassed
it was only on the window not everywhere like I'd dreamed
my semen running away from me like so much rain
and right in front of the woman I really was
dreaming (11)
The female speaker dreams she has a penis and a bucketful of semen she shoots “everywhere” on the train. Upon waking, she finds that she hasn't ejaculated everywhere, but “only on the window.” The space between man and woman, thought and semen, or waking and dreaming collapses and leaves us neither “outside or inside” (13) these distinctions, but “divided” by the act of “tethering them together” (32).

Gender, though, isn't the only confusion in which Solomon traffics. In her sprawling and gorgeous poem “Philadelphia,” the speaker informs her readers:
                                                                                       it's dumb
to differentiate between ordinary and miraculous things
is to miss the point (37)
To distinguish between “ordinary and miraculous” is both “dumb” and “to miss the point.” What the speaker proposes is, perhaps, a Deleuzian “AND-logic” that promotes both the ordinary and the miraculous simultaneously: indissolubly both and in complex relation with one another. Moreover, the syntax of the excerpt serves to highlight the “bothing,” in the sense that the lack of punctuation creates a inextricable fusion between two grammatical structures: “it's dumb / to differentiate between ordinary and miraculous things” and “to differentiate between ordinary and miraculous things / is to miss the point.”

This is not the only instance of Solomon's use of meta-critical language to intensify the confusion addressed in her content. For example, the interplay between English and French languages allows for her to create homophonic, translation-based puns. In “French Sentences,” readers find:
there is fever in forever but also there is or

or which means or in English but which in French means gold

billions of people and how many words in how many languages

is there anything lonelier than a lost glove?

gold and or

dust (23)
There is “fever” and “or” in “forever,” but the more compelling linguistic play occurs within the cultural confusion: the fact that “or” signifies both a conjunction (and thus relational part of speech) in English and a precious metal in French. As such, “gold and or” can be read as a simple statement of fact (i.e. the metal is called both “gold” and “or”), as well as a phrase in a larger syntactical unit that answers a question (i.e. gold and/or dust is lonelier than a lost glove). With “billions of people” speaking so “many languages,” the opportunities for playful confusion within translation appear to be unbounded.

Yes, confusions proliferate throughout The Hermit, which might lead one to think of Solomon as a bit of a linguistic genius. But, of course, to call her one would be both foolish and condescending because “becoming a genius is neither interesting nor important. You get the idea. Many geniuses however do not or at least not right away” (26). In a witty skewering of genius, Gertrude Stein, and Alice Notley, the speaker of “The Autobiography of Alice B. Notley” knows that it is only the “genius” who, full of self-importance, remains confused about the fact that their “genius” is “neither interesting or important,” merely a bourgeois concept that requires you “to be born[,] sojourn in Paris,” and fill out “paperwork,” which will then be handed over to “official people” and “circulate[d] indefinitely” (25). Instead, call Solomon confused as she “speaks [in] a dialect for which there is no book [we] can study” (56) so that “it's hard to imagine properly / what [she] means” (35). Reader of The Hermit, let the sounds of confusion wash over you and “love them more and more” (21).

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